The first thing you need to know about Taipei is that it's hot. Well, more humid, really. The second thing you need to know is that if you don't have a scooter, you're a nobody. That's why all the hype in Taipei right now is around a scooter company called Gogoro and its first pilot store in the city centre: it's cool as ice, and riding around on one is like putting a Tesla between your legs.
What Is It?
Gogoro unveiled its product at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as an electric scooter that you don't need to charge.
The Gogoro scooter is about the size of a 50cc Honda scooter (think the Scoopy, not the Lead), put packs quite a punch. The motor has the same displacement as a traditional 125cc engine and it can do up to 100km/h.
The reason you don't need to charge it per sé is because Gogoro takes care of that for you.
Under the seat are two rectangular battery packs. They'll take you about 100 kilometres on a single charge, and when you're done you ride to the nearest charge station and swap out your packs for some freshly charged replacements. The whole swap process takes about six seconds according to Gogoro.
Compared to electric bikes like the Fonzarelli 125 which takes an hour to get to 80 per cent of its charge from empty, the Gogoro is a boon to people living in high-density areas without access to charge points. The batteries in the Gogoro are also much smaller than those inside the Fonzarelli 125, meaning you still get enough storage space under the front seat for a full-sized helmet.
Building a bespoke charging network is an expensive exercise for Gogoro, considering it's a start-up business that needs to spend every dollar carefully. It has VC funding on its side and was founded by two ex-Microsoft employees, but it's still a risky business. That's why the scooter start-up launched its Taipei experience store: to show people the two-wheeled world according to Gogoro.
Inside the intensely air-conditioned store in shouting distance of Taipei's iconic 101 skyscraper is a scene that can only be described as the Apple Store for futuristic motorcycles. It's all clean glass, white surfaces, colourful accessories and interesting displays designed to catch your eye and excite you about the two-wheeled gadget.
Gogoro's whole mission is to improve two-wheeled transport for the world's megacities. A megacity is defined as a metropolis where over 10 million people live. In 1990, there were 10 megacities in the world. Right now, there are 37 megacities in the world, including Beijing, Jakarta, New York, Los Angeles, Osaka and Manila.
According to the United Nations, we'll have 41 megacities by 2030. Millions of people will be sitting in traffic, burning fuel, polluting the atmosphere and wasting productivity. Clearly, something's gotta give. That's why companies like Tesla, Ford, BMW and now Gogoro are working to solve the problem before it reaches crisis levels.
So what is the two-wheeled hope of tomorrow like in person?
In a word: surprising.
I don't know why, but when I hear that a car or motorbike is electric, I assume that it's flimsy. Somehow my brain connects the need to save weight as an excuse for a bike or car to be made of crappy materials, but every electric vehicle I've driven so far has proved that you can still have quality and efficiency. The Tesla Model S, the BMW i3 and the Holden Volt all proved that to me, and now the Gogoro has too.
Underneath the hard and stylish white plastic shell is a unibody aluminium shell that's rigid and tough. The rubber hitting the road is high-quality MAXXIS tyres and the batteries powering the scooter are the same Panasonic cells inside the Model S. The front Philips LED lamps are the same as the ones on the Porsche GT3 and the Audi R8, and the speedometer LED display is bright, beautiful and visible in direct sunlight. The Gogoro is no toy.
The bike also connects to an app which tells you how efficient you've been while riding, gives you achievements for riding certain distances or achieving specific milestones, and allows you to see your bike's status. The app also shows you where the nearest battery swap points are, and allows you to reserve batteries on your way to a pick-up in case it's busy.
The batteries also have personalised NFC tags, meaning that the swap point knows it's you who is swapping over a cell at a charge point. From there it generates analytics on when you're likely to swap over a cell, allowing Gogoro to plan future infrastructure around user's riding habits.
The Gogoro scooter is also theft-proof. Gogoro told us that if someone steals the bike, a user is able to report it through the app. Once the thief takes the bike back to a battery swap point and attempts to change over the cells, the battery base will lock down, and a camera will fire up, taking photos of the perpetrator. The batteries are also theft-proof inside the base, with a handle that's designed to shatter when it's subjected to a force similar to being towed out of a station by a car or bike. Without the handle, it can't be removed except by Gogoro personnel. Not being able to get a new battery makes the bike useless to the thief, and common sense dictates that they'll just abandon the bike at the charge point for the owner to recover.
The whole thing is turned on by an Bluetooth 4.0 key fob which can't be cloned, making it even more secure.
The scooter is also insanely customisable. It rolls of the line as a sleek, white appliance, but you can easily walk into the Gogoro Experience Store to purchase new panels for the bike which can be swapped in and out with a suction cup. The app also allows you to configure what you want your instrument cluster to look like.
So it's beautiful, strong, smart and secure, but what's it like to ride? We were taken to a small track inside a Taipei car-park to find out. The surprises continued as soon as you straddle the bike.
Most surprisingly, the Gogoro has a reverse gear that spins the wheels backwards, helping you out of your parking space. I've been riding scooters for years and haven't seen one with a reversible transmission, so I was delighted right off the bat.
Twisting the throttle gives you the same thrill that stamping on the accelerator of a Tesla Model S does. Because it's all-electric, it delivers the maximum amount of torque to the wheels from a standstill. That means it takes off like a shot. Gogoro want you to get to the front of every queue from traffic lights with the Smartscooter, and it certainly has the power to deliver on that promise.
The power is equivalent to a 125cc motor at speed, but the acceleration is unlike anything I've ever felt on a bike of that size. I ride a 125cc Vespa LX right now, and I wish it was as fast and fun as the Gogoro.
Of course, thrashing the throttle on every take-off is going to chew through your battery. That estimated 100km range is based on the scooter travelling at an average speed of 25km/h. That's pretty fast for a city, but be prepared for the bike to dramatically undercut its own projections if you get it out on the open roads.
To make sure you get the most out of your battery, there's a little button on the right hand indicator array labelled "Smart". The Smart mode limits the amount of torque the motor delivers on take off, keeping your battery life in check as you ride around town.
Turning off Smart mode for a quick overtaking manoeuvre is good fun, but it's not something I'd leave off all the time.
Everything on the bike makes a cute little noise, too. Putting the side stand up and down triggers a cute little tone as if you were turning on an Xbox; turning the bike on and off cues up a little hello and goodbye tone no longer than a second, and best of all, the indicators don't go tick-tock, they make bing noises. You really get the sense as you ride that the Gogoro is smart and almost alive. You feel intensely connected to it, and you trust it almost immediately.
The only two negative things I'd say about the Gogoro is that the seat points downwards, and it's a little small. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone over 6-feet tall, nor would I recommend stopping too quickly if you're too far forward on the seat. I found myself sliding forward ever so slightly when testing out an emergency stop.
After the test ride was done, I farewelled the Gogoro crew and scored a delicious mango-flavoured (mangogoro?) ice cream for the walk back to my hotel. As I consumed the fast-melting treat, I realised it was just as refreshing as the Gogoro scooter it was celebrating.
There's no word on pricing for the Gogoro scooter just yet, nor is there any word on launch markets, but I hope one comes to Sydney. I'd have a Gogoro in a heartbeat.